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TheStreet Open House

Obama, Unions Work to Bring Back Overseas Jobs

In January, at an "Insourcing American Jobs" forum at the White House, companies that brought back jobs were honored. "I'm calling on those businesses that haven't brought jobs back to take this opportunity to get the American people back to work," President Barack Obama said then. Ford, Intel (INTC), Masterlock and US Airways were among the companies representing.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) is sponsoring a bill that would bar corporations that outsource U.S. call center jobs from getting federal grants and loans.

The guests at the White House insourcing forum included Robert Isom, US Airways executive vice president and chief operating officer, who attended with the CWA chief of staff, Ron Collins.

Isom says that because U.S. workers cost more than workers in the Philippines, US Airways developed technology to screen incoming calls to reservations, which totaled about 21 million last year. "Over time, we developed a higher-quality product," he said. "The new technology enables about a third of all calls to be handled by voice mail. For those that are not, it puts more information and more options on the screen in front of the agent handling the call."

Hester said the average customer waits 10 seconds to speak to an agent, although that increases during "irregular operations," then speaks with an agent for about five minutes.

Two other carriers have reservations agents abroad and have decreased or may decrease their numbers.

United (UAL) has call centers in Chicago; Detroit; Honolulu; Rapid City, S.D.; Manila; and Delhi and Pune, India. The offshore centers opened early in the past decade. United's reservations agents, represented by the International Association of Machinists, are involved in contract talks. "We have proposed having all of the UAL reservations work done within our borders," IAM spokesman Joe Tiberi says.

Additionally, Delta (DAL) Delta has reservations centers in nine U.S. cities: Atlanta; Cincinnati; Dallas; Chisholm, Minn.; Minneapolis; Sioux City, Iowa; Salt Lake City; Seattle; and Tampa, Fla. Last summer, Delta began routing North America-originating general sales and promotions calls that were handled by Mindpearl in Cape Town back to Delta's U.S.-based call centers. "This transition is part of Delta's reservations sales strategy to reduce offshore partner dependence," Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter says.

The international outsourcing story is not always a positive one. The CWA is focused on a case in the telecommunications industry, after T-Mobile, a unit of the German company Deutsche Telekom, which said last week that it will close seven U.S. call centers, where 3,300 workers are employed, by the end of June. The company said it will offer workers jobs at 17 remaining call centers. "Jobs could have been brought back from Asia and Honduras because it's common knowledge that high road customer service is done by U.S. workers," the CWA says.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/tedreednc.

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